Game Rentals Are Dead: What Now?

Physical game rentals have become, for the most part, a thing of the past. Their disappearance has caused a decline in the number of games I play each year, and at a time when I find myself getting excited about more and more titles. Back in the early 90s many developers used shareware as a form of distribution, with the hope that enticing consumers with a free sample would shake some money loose from their wallets. But the Internet has come far since then and its exponential growth has made those methods unnecessary.

Getting your game in front of people is becoming an issue again, but now it’s because of the incredible volume of content being made and the finite nature of the dollar. Developers and publishers are once again fishing for new ways to push their games into our homes and it’s a trend I hope continues.

" Demos have become less prominent but beta tests are becoming more prevalent on consoles. "
The technology behind the new generation of consoles is a driving factor in this trend. Demos have become less prominent but beta tests are becoming more prevalent on consoles. Games such as Destiny and Battlefield: Hardline had massive betas earlier this summer, and the trend looks to continue with similar pre-launch tests planned for Driveclub, The Crew, and Deep Down. It seems that the not so distant fiascos of Diablo 3 and the latest Sim City have made developers conscious of how upset players get when they buy a game and aren’t able to play it. And titles like The Crew and Tom Clancy’s The Division also look to heavily involve multiplayer in their core experience, which has me anxiously expecting the increased use of betas to mitigate or avoid those public outcries.

The progress of digital technology has also brought about DLC, and now some developers are using it in different ways that don’t require you to purchase the full game first. Recently, the Infamous team released First Light, a stand-alone, DLC spin-off from Infamous: Second Son that had the triple-A production expected from Sucker Punch, but at a fraction of the length and cost. This almost feels like an evolution of the shareware model. Die hard, Infamous fans get more of what they love, and those weary of dropping $60 on the full game can try a fully fleshed out experience for a fraction of the cost. The Saints Row franchise is following suit with Gat out of Hell, the stand-alone content they announced at PAX Prime this past weekend. Being able to get your hands on a smaller sample of the game, and then buying the larger version if you enjoy it, is a more practical and consumer-friendly approach then the reciprocal.

Another approach is in the development of whole new features what weren’t previously possible. Ubisoft is trying something new with Far Cry 4 where they give those who buy the game and have Playstation Plus 10 “keys to Kyrat”, which will allow them to offer friends the ability to play with them without having to own the game. The second player will join the game owners session via the Playstation Network, and each key gives access to two hours of game play.

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Sony alluded to a similar feature being extended to possibly all future games with a service called Share Play. And they’ve also been testing the waters with their streaming service, Playstation Now, over the summer. Currently, Playstation Now only offers PS4 owners a handful of previous generation games for rent, but maybe one day it could be extended to offer full access to current generation titles for a limited time.

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It’s clear game makers are looking for new ways to get their games not just in front of our eyes, but also in our hands. I for one am looking forward to more of these features, more betas, and more access to the games that I might not otherwise play. But it’s only going to continue if they produce the desired results, and many of these features come with if’s and maybe’s.

Most betas are closed and require a pre-order, or a code that you may or may not be lucky enough to get. The “keys to Kyrat” feature Ubisoft is implementing sounds great, but how many people are going to take advantage of it and will it result in increased sales? From the data we can look at, things look good. Gamers look to be excited by the new features and the biggest beta we’ve seen, Destiny’s, looked to be a great overall success. Over 4.6 million people took part across all platforms, and because of, not only the access to the game but the increased media attention during the beta, you can see a clear increase in pre-order sales.

In the weeks leading up to Destiny’s alpha test, pre-orders were at around 7,000 copies a week. Those numbers ramped up to between 40 and 60-thousand a week leading up to and during the beta.

I’m sure many are like me and don’t have the disposable income required to play everything they want to. It makes you weary to purchase titles unless you’re sure they’re going to be worth it. It looks like publishers and developers are becoming more aware of this and looking for solutions to get their content into our homes and our money out of our wallets, and if it means more content and features like these, I look forward to it.

*Addendum: Red Box does offer game rentals in the United States, but on the Redbox Canada website there is no category for games and we were unable to find any video games available at any of the Redbox kiosks we checked.